Weekly Pic | 9th Jan | That Time I Was Right Here* 

40 years ago | *ABC Cinema, Wigan, UK | 9th January 1983

The ABC in Wigan, just before the UK release of E.T., December 1982. Photo: Frank Orrell (Wigan Observer)

Forty years ago, we went to the cinema.  It doesn’t sound that big a deal now.  It wasn’t really that remarkable then, If I’m honest – except for the fact that it was only my second-ever trip to ‘the pictures’, to watch the film that everyone was talking about: ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’.

In spring 1981, I’d had my first cinema experience, watching ‘Superman II’.  I remember being wowed by the action on screen and bitterly disappointed by the taste of the exotic hot dogs served in the foyer.  The experience had clearly stuck with me because I distinctly remember giving the same counter a wide berth, this time.  

The other difference this time was that I was very aware that this was not just a film but a major event.  That the mere fact I was going to watch it carried its own level of kudos.  The film had been hyped for weeks and radio, television and even daily conversations seemed to consist of very little else.  It was probably the first blockbuster film release that I was old enough to understand as such.

Predictably, I loved the film.  At the age of nine, I was probably in the ideal demographic for it.  Looking back, there was something else that may seem largely superficial now but at the time felt hugely profound: the chase scene at the end involved BMX bikes, something most school-age kids were very impressed by, in the early 1980s.  

By embracing something that was so clearly part of the zeitgeist, Spielberg was able to make his story all the more compelling to his target market.  It felt to us as if the conversations we were having on our playground were actually shaping Hollywood films.  It may not be too much of a stretch to say that they were – in a way.  Although we, like everyone else, thought it was just our school that was so ‘influential’, when, by definition, it was every school.

I remember getting the novelised version on E.T. in paperback from the school book club, not long after and devouring the written story.  I think I still have it.  It’s still one of a small number of films that, if I happen upon it while flicking around the channels, I will feel the urge to watch it to the end, every time.  ‘Jaws’, ‘Educating Rita’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ being other notable holders of that particular accolade.

It also imbued in me a love of cinema itself.  Even the grotty old Wigan ABC fleapit (where twenty years previously, my Dad had watched Roy Orbison and The Beatles) was enough to light a passion which still burns today.  Only years later did I learn that my Grandad, great-uncle and great-Grandad owned a cinema in Standish (‘The Palace’) for 30 years so it kind of is in my blood.

A pandemic and home streaming have reduced my cinema-going in recent years but I’d still rather take in a quirky movie in a theatre than watch a so-called ‘must-see’ series.  Unlike E.T., ‘Home’ is not my preferred venue, when it comes to film consumption.  Given the chance to go to a cinema any day – and ‘I’ll be right there’…

Weekly Pic | 19th Dec: That Time I Became A Homeowner

25 years ago | Pendlebury Street, Warrington, UK | 20th December 1997

Twenty-five years ago, we moved in to the first home I owned, in Latchford, Warrington, despite all common sense suggesting that we shouldn’t…

Actually, I’d owned the house since July but we’d spent months having to strip out the electrics, the plumbing and – somewhat dispiritingly – the kitchen floor.  We installed central heating, new wiring, damp-proofing, loft insulation, a new bathroom, a new concrete base and did a lot of re-plastering and decorating.

By December, It was still barely habitable.  The kitchen was little more than a glorified vanity unit with a fridge and an old cooker, most of the furniture was spectacularly mis-matched, generously donated ‘hand-me-downs’ and the bathroom was still un-tiled and missing a door.  It really wasn’t ready to be moved into.

But I’d grown impatient.  Once the wooden floorboards downstairs were all sanded to a point it had been unclear that they could ever be returned to, the last vital job that couldn’t be lived around had been done.  I’d promised myself we’d be in for Christmas and, sensible or not, I stuck to it.

It didn’t make for a classic Christmas but the giddiness of finally having my own place, living – as my Grandma put it – “over t’brush” (old Lancashire for pre-marital co-habiting), outweighed any thoughts of missing out on festive traditions.  

By Boxing Day, I was painting and staining, putting up curtains and planning how to spend Christmas money.  I remember not long after, we blew about £500 in Warrington Ikea on storage boxes, a dining room set, crockery and cutlery and light fittings.

Moving into your first house is a great way to uncovering all the necessary things that you don’t yet own and so began the long process of acquiring them all.  In our case, it led to probably the most boring New Year’s Eve of all time, as we saw in 1998 in bed on an ancient, very grainy, portable TV.

It all sounds a bit depressing now but at the time, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Weekly Pic | 5 Dec: That Time I Was A ‘Computer Whizz’

40 years ago | Chamberlains Farm, Shevington Moor, UK | ??th December 1982

In 1982, we opened a shop next door to a computer store and I was a regular visitor to this new and beguiling place. It may now seem a little laughable to talk with wonder about the Commodore 64 or the ZX Spectrum but in the early 80s, this was quite a heady thing to be able to say. The world was on the cusp of a home computing revolution and ‘computer whizz-kids’ was a phrase that started to appear everywhere in the media and wider culture.

Better still, we got to borrow a demonstrator model of a ZX81, which we immediately hooked up to the ageing black-and-white portable TV in the dining room – the only telly we had other than the main 24″ rental in the lounge.

With it, my Dad and I began to immerse ourselves into this brave new world, anticipating the many doors of wonderment that would open before us, as all the hype was suggesting. The reality was, I’m afraid, not entirely the kind of valuable experience we were hoping for.

We soon learned that we couldn’t just “replace the typewriter” or “control household budgets” because that would require “software”, which came separately (and which we couldn’t borrow). I seem to remember there being a “graphics package”, which was the digital equivalent of attempting to create an image from two-inch painted blocks. In mono. Oh, how our ambitions were stymied – bot on we persevered.

The thing was written on BASIC, which immediately put me at an advantage over my Dad because, aged 8, I’d done one term of night school on BASIC programming, which meant I could do the following:

10 PRINT “Paul is ace”
20 GOTO 10

And for the first time in my life, I learned that new technology was a perfect arena for kids to out-smart their parents. With every derisory sneer from our own 18yr-old, I’m still ‘benefitting’ from that early insight.

The valuable introduction to computing it did give us, was to lower our expectations, engender limitless patience, expect things to go wrong for no discernible reason and always have a Plan B. Not quite what we were hoping for but perennially useful, nonetheless.

As I type this on my MacBook Pro, surrounded by a variety of tech with unimaginably greater levels computing power than every item in that shop combined, the value of those formative lessons remains. Early 80s computing was crap – but it was necessarily crap.

Cycle to Work…Even at Home?

Thursday 4 August is ‘Cycle to Work’ Day – and there’s never been a better time to take part!

Would you cycle to work?  Of course, not everyone can – and even fewer will feel like doing so.  There are lots of reasons that make this an difficult prospect: distance, school runs, road safety, the British weather, lack of changing or showering facilities. 

What if all of that was taken care of?  Could you be tempted?  In August, there’s no school run, the weather is better, it’s light for longer and roads tend to be quieter.

The recent rises in fuels costs may be persuading many commuters to think again about cycling to work, particularly in the summer months.  Recently, the Evening Standard reported that cycling around London, from March to June,was 25% up on pre-pandemic levels

So is it worth trying, just for a day, to see if cycling to work is something you can realistically consider for other days in the year?  And what about trading up to an e-bike, to take away the worst of the physical effort? 

As the official website keenly points out:

“Cycling to work helps you stay fit and healthy, burns a lot of calories, and reduces your carbon footprint too. Find out how cycling could benefit your health and environmental impact.”

If you’re working from home on 4 August, you’ll probably be thinking that this has nothing to do with you.  But just hold on a minute – maybe it does

With all the health benefits of cycling, the suitability of the time of year, the fact that you’re already very close to work and you also have changing facilities, why not consider cycling to ‘work’, even when you work from home?  You can choose your own route, as short as you like or as safe as possible.  You can even squeeze a quick shower in, when you get back!  Better still, you can do that any other day, as well.

Okay, you didn’t technically need to ‘cycle to work’ but you do get all of the health benefits and none of the impracticalities.  Suddenly, there just don’t seem the same number of reasons not to!  For more interesting articles, tips and advice about cycling to work, have a look at the scheme’s blog pages.

If you’d like more details about [Redacted]’s Cycle to Work Scheme, to subsidise a bicycle (or an e-bike) for commuting to work, click here and download the guide: